Mayon Volcano Ready to Erupt, May Cause a Little Climate Cooling

Mayon is the largest of the Philippines' 22 active volcanoes, at 8,070 feet. The plumes of smoke and flows of lava make it seem like it is already erupting, yet scientists say the big fireworks could be still to come, and more than 40,000 people have been evacuated. An eruption might create something called a pyroclastic flow, or high-speed avalanche of hot rocks and gas. The volcano is now "racking up" thousands of earthquakes each day, says eruption follower Dr. Eric Klemetti. Theoretically at least, the strength of the Mayon eruption, if it happens, has the potential to have a little climate cooling.

Mount Mayon.jpg

Photo of Mayon via DrareG @ flickr.
What does it take for a volcanic eruption to have climactic effects?

Right now Mayon is a considered at a Level 4 of eruptive acitivity (out of a possible five), meaning that a major eruption is "possible within days." Level 5 is when an eruption has already begun.

Mayon has erupted in the near past, so some of the people who live around the area are used to dodging eruptions. Yet there are some signs (specifically the number of earthquakes - 453 were recorded in a five-hour period yesterday) - that Mayon is getting ready for a somewhat spectacular and possibly dangerous display.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo exploded in the northern Philippines in one of the world's biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people. Mayon last erupted in 2006.

While scientists currently do not expect Mayon to meet or exceed the intensity of Pinatubo, Pinatubo was a major natural event and large enough that scientists speculate could have affected "temperature and sea level on a planetary scale." This was due to the millions of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) that was pumped into the stratosphere, the area seven miles above the surface of the earth.

The sulphur dioxide mixed with water vapor to form a bit of an aerosol blanket over the earth, which thus reflected the sun and cooled things down a bit.

Unfortunately, according to Vicky Pope, Chief Climate Advisor for the UK Met Office, volcanic gases tend to stay in the stratosphere for only a couple of years, meaning that even if Mayon were big enough to cause cooling, it would be short lived.

Read more about volcanoes on TreeHugger:
Global Warming Versus the Volcano: Could Eruptions Slow Climate Change?
Earth on Fire: The Awesome Power of Volcanic Eruptions, Captured in Pictures (Slideshow)
More Global Warming-Induced Ice Melting Could Yield "Explosive" Results